Kate Flora here, leading off a group post about giving, and getting, books for the holidays. When I was growing up on the farm in Union, one of the most special events of the season was getting the Brentano’s catalogue. My brother John, my sister Sara, and I would spend hours looking at the covers and reading the descriptions, and we would each get to pick one special book that our parents would order for us. I still have many of those books on my shelf. It is still the books that I am given that I treasure most, and I look forward to the day after Christmas, when I ignore the world around me, curl up on the couch, let my family eat leftovers, and read all day. So what is on my list for this year? I would pick the new Elizabeth Strout, but it won’t be published until March, so at the top of my list will be the new Barbara Kingsolver novel, Flight Behavior.
On the flip side, what book am I giving? Well, that’s much easier. Barbara Ross and the new editors at Level Best have produced an amazing collection of crime stories this year called Blood Moon. Not only does it have a fabulous cover, it has 32 stories, including stories by Woody Hanstein and Judy Green, two of Maine’s most talented crime story writers (Judy was nominated for an Edgar for one of her stories; Woody’s story in last year’s collection was chosen as one of the 100 best of the year), it has a story with Thoreau as the sleuth, a story set on Monhegan Island, and I have a story of my own in the collection, which makes it a more personal gift.
Kaitlyn Dunnett chiming in. What book do I want? A new, very expensive tome called The Suffolk Collection. It’s billed as lavishly illustrated and I hope it is. Lots of pictures of portraits and other items collected by a British noble family through the centuries. Do I need this book? No. Do I want it? You betcha!
As for gift giving, that’s actually harder for me. I’m beginning to think bookstore gift certificates might be a better idea than trying to pick out titles myself. I still remember how my mother-in-law used to do her Christmas gift-giving. She’d buy something she thought I’d like, but she’d always include the sales receipt so I could exchange it. Sadly, most times I did. It’s really hard to judge another person’s taste. I’ve always given books as gifts to the young people in the family, but that’s gotten harder as they get older. If they have a favorite series, they probably have many of the individual books already. With a single title or nonfiction, how do I tell if the book is one they’ll actually want to read? Nowadays, there’s an additional problem. Would the recipient rather have an ebook? Even my nine-year-old great niece is doing some of her reading on a Nook these days.
I do, however, have a few recommendations for Christmas-themed mysteries. My favorite is Charlotte MacLeod’s Rest You Merry, which is at long last (along with all her other titles) available as an ebook. It’s been getting harder to read the small print in my old paperbacks and I’m glad to have the chance to acquire digital versions as well. Then, of course, there’s my own A Wee Christmas Homicide, 3rd in the Liss MacCrimmon series. Other top picks are Donna Andrews’s Six Geese A-Slaying and Rhys Bowen’s brand new Lady Georgie mystery, The Twelve Clues of Christmas. All are humorous mysteries, of course. After all, ’tis the season to be jolly.
Lea Wait: I have been a bad, bad girl this year. I’ve bought more books than I should. And loved many of them. Although there are always more books that I would love to have (Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies, Louise Erdrich’s The Round House and Libba Bray’s The Diviners are all on my wish list — and they’ve all won awards and been on many “best of the year” lists, too, so I suspect they’ll find their way under many Christmas trees. (By the way, as an author and an absolute Christmas addict, I LOVE the idea of being under someone’s Christmas tree. It’s always seemed to me a double honor that someone would buy one of my books, and then gift it to someone they love at such a special time of year. But … I’m off track.) But: my supreme Christmas wish-of-all-wishes? I would love the fifth and final volume of the Dictionary of American Regional English. I have, and love, the first four volumes. And, if I’m REALLY dreaming — Volume six will be published in early January. It’s the key to the first five volumes, complete with maps and fieldwork data, and all the wonderful information a geek who loves words (that would be me) would cherish. Elves, take note. Meanwhile, I’ll start saving my pennies. Those volumes are expensive.
As for gifting: my artist husband asked for, and is devouring, B.A. Shapiro’s The Art Forger, now — a little early, but he couldn’t resist.. And seven of my grandchildren are getting books. (They won’t be surprised at that.) Some of my favorites which will be under their trees this year include Wonder, by R.J. Palacio, about a boy born with a facial deformity who wants to be accepted by other middle school kids, Oh, Yuck! The Encyclopedia of Everything Nasty, which a young man I know I think will love, Grandma Drove the Garbage Truck, a funny picture book by Maine author Katie Clark, Lon Po Po: A Red Riding Story from China by Ed Young, for my half-Chinese grandchildren, and another one of my favorite picture books, Calvin Can’t Fly by Jennifer Berne. (Calvin is a bird who can’t fly because he’s too busy reading .. but he saves the day anyway.)
John here: It isn’t coming out before Christmas, but I’ll drop everything when Travis Thrasher’s final book in his Solitary Tales series, Hurt, comes out on January first. This was a series I discovered when I got an opportunity to review the first book for the now defunct website TCM Reviews. It had me hooked in a very few pages and was so intriguing, I mooched or bought everything else Travis has written. The second and third books in the series built the world and the overarching sense of evil incredibly well, leaving me and everyone else who’s hooked on the series going nuts trying to figure out how he’s going to wrap it up. Who lives, who dies, what happened to some of the people who had to disappear along the way in order to remain safe?
My other gift to myself is the second book by Charles Hall A Chronicle of Endylmyr II: Magic calls to magic. The first in the series was another review title courtesy of TCM Reviews and I as floored by how well the author created the world where the story was set. When I was finished and posted the review, I emailed him and asked about a sequel. Three years later, he responded with news that the second book was at the printers. Once more I’m excited about being able to return to a world that comes alive thanks to an author’s imagination.
As for books I’m giving, Ive noted before that my daughters have very similar reading tastes to mine. Sara Beth will get the following from Dad, Two Graves, the next in the Pendergast series by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Childs. (I’m drooling over this one myself because they left a monster cliffhanger at the end of the last one).
Sara is also an equestrian, so she gets The Outside of a Horse by Ginny Rorby. A book I added to the Hartland Library collection a couple months ago. It’s a feel-good coming of age book about a girl whose dad came back from the Iraq War with PTSD and a lost limb. The whole family is now traumatized by his nightmares. Daughter Hannah discovers that working in a stable and seeing miracles happen to horses can be her own path back to wholeness.
Barb: For the young people in my life, two new YA titles: Emily’s Dress and Other Missing Things, by Kathryn Burak, a beautifully written book about a girl who impulsively steals Emily Dickinson’s dress from the Amherst museum. And Love and Haight by Susan Carlson, about a pregnant girl who travels to San Francisco seeking an abortion in the tumultuous months before Roe v. Wade. Once she gets there things aren’t nearly as straightforward as they seemed to be when she hatched her plan.
For my sister-in-law, Helen Keller in Love, by Rosie Sultan, a novel about Helen Keller’s true-life love affair and a meditation on our investment in celebrity and society’s and family’s reactions to love among the disabled. For my brother, The Bookie’s Son, by Andrew Goldstein. Set in the 1960’s Bronx–when his father crosses a gangster and must go into hiding, a young boy has to take over running his book-making business while his mother plots to embezzle the money from one of her boss’s clients–Elizabeth Taylor.
For the new parents on my list, Growing Up Brave: Expert Strategies for Helping Your Child Overcome Fear, Stress, and Anxiety by Donna B. Pincus, a timely book about helping build resilience in your children. As for me, I’ve requested Dear Life: Stories by Alice Munro. I hope I get it!